John Webber took over the running of Russell Jones & Walker at the age of 32, after the sudden death of partner and mentor Jim Storey. "It was very difficult to take on the work at that age," he says. "I wouldn't go through that again – those five years were hard."
He was also put in the position of running a firm ahead of colleagues with whom he had practised on an equal footing days before.
Partner Barton Taylor says Webber's approach has helped keep the firm together.
"He's the world's greatest chair. He's astute, practical and has sound judgement."
Taylor says there is a certain mystique to Webber's approach. "How can one be ambitious and cautious at the same time? It's a very odd combination."
Webber's skill has been in harnessing the skills of a group of strong-willed, high-profile lawyers, many of whom have worked together for nearly 20 years. He is attributed with the apocryphal quote of describing his fellow partners as "a collection not so much of people, but of egos".
Ex-Kingsley Napley partner and crime unit head, Rod Fletcher, came late into that group of "robust personalities".
"Everybody has a lot of determination for their field," he says. "For me it was a question of gradual acclimatisation and realising that this wasn't a partnership where one could simply sit around."
Webber's outlook affects every aspect of the firm. He is keener on generic growth within the firm than on bringing in outsiders with a different 'cultural' approach, who might then leave.
Above all, he sees his firm as a business. "The law is no different from selling groceries," he says.